Interview with Website of the Month winner isurvive - Heart Internet Blog - Focusing on all aspects of the web

May's Website of the Month winner was isurvive, a non-profit organisation offering support to survivors of child abuse. We caught up with the isurvive team to talk about the wide range of features within their site, working with others to define their design style, the practice of creating websites and more.

Tell us a bit about yourself and the isurvive website.

isurvive.org (A Non-Profit Organization for Child Abuse Survivors Learning to Thrive) has been offering online support to survivors of childhood abuse since 2001. Over the years the site has evolved and developed a great deal – but one thing remains the same; the dedication by the volunteer team to ensure the provision of a safe landing spot for our members.

We tend to be the lucky result of internet searches by people seeking support for issues relating to incest and/or sexual, emotional, physical, verbal and ritualised abuse.

We take the safety of our members very seriously and do all in our power to ensure the site is as secure as possible. Our volunteer moderating team is currently scattered between USA, UK & Australia so there is pretty much someone around 24/7. Their job is primarily to monitor the forums and offer a personal message of support & care whenever they can.

The Meet the Team section of your site contains personal introductions from different members of the isurvive team, how do you think this intimate approach has helped you online?

We made the decision to include personal introductions from the isurvive moderating team to try and demonstrate that the ‘authority figures’ here aren’t too different from the members. By sharing who we are behind the scenes, the members can see some of what we have gone through and this hopefully demonstrates that we have been able to overcome the trauma. It gives hope just to know that there are many people here who travel a similar road and are walking beside you with encouragement and support on your journey.

Being open and sharing personal information makes The Team more ‘human’ to the site’s visitors, who are often potential members. One of the biggest hurdles in overcoming the effects of child abuse is facing the shame, recognising that you’re not crazy and realising that what’s happening in your adult life is linked. It can be terrifying to open up about horrific events from your past, but we strive to ensure that our site is as friendly, understanding and sensitive as possible. We’re very real survivors working behind the scenes.

Your site includes a forum for its users, what made you choose to offer this?

isurvive has always been about discussion forums – our biggest goal, and the very reason for our existence, is to support abuse survivors in their healing. 

Discussion forums are an important helpful and informative resource for members, as it’s a place where they can share thoughts and find/give feedback from others going through similar experiences. One of the best ways to heal is to share one’s story and to be heard and understood; we believe that forums are a great method of achieving this. It also benefits members in rural or remote locations without access to 3D survivor support groups, or those who would feel uncomfortable in such settings, by providing them with similar benefits to a support group. We have a total of 18 different forums, each offering different discussion contexts depending on the subject of the words. We provide an area where those with Dissociative Disorders and PTSD can share experiences and also an area where those supporting a loved one can seek support.

Each forum is moderated on a daily basis to ensure that safety and ongoing support are provided. We believe that it’s imperative for survivors to learn that damaging events in their past need not define who they are, nor limit what they can do in the future. Our forums provide a protected place for people to say, “It happened to me”, for them to be heard and understood and to work towards healing. Child abuse isolates and instils a sense that something is wrong with us; by offering discussion forums we provide a secure place where survivors can interact, thus helping them to break down those feelings of shame and isolation.

We also offer a chat room, as an additional resource for those needing immediate connection, where members can participate in real time messaging.

Members of your site are able to log in to view and share artwork related to their experiences, how do you think this has contributed to the success of your site?

Art is another means of self-expression for survivors and can greatly contribute to the healing process, especially in the early days when words are difficult to find. Having an area where members can share their art has proven invaluable and gives their images a voice. Many of our survivors have commented on how viewing other members’ artwork has touched them or resonated with them at some level, which is healing in itself. We also have a forum where our members can express themselves through poetry or creative writing. In terms of these areas contributing to the success of our site, they offer an additional outlet and further enhance what we have to offer.

What advice would you give to someone who is just about to create a website for a non-profit organisation?

To someone who is just about to create a website for a non-profit organisation we would say, “Research, research, research!” Make sure that you understand not just the background of your particular area of interest, but the laws surrounding non-profits and the internet. Make sure that you understand the principles of “do no harm” as it is very easy to damage vulnerable people with misinformation or well-intentioned, but ultimately harmful, “advice”. Make sure that you are aware of the needs of your potential users and be as proactive as you can in addressing them. Look for other sites with similar interests to yours and make yours different! Be sure to have a team around you – because it's way more than one person can tackle alone.

Who did you work with to design your website and why did you choose them?

We worked with Sentient Creation to design our website, who were recommended to us by a mutual acquaintance.

How would you describe the process of defining the site’s look and feel?

We wanted to create a rounded, professional appearance to isurvive and this involved much collaboration between the team and Sentient Creation until all were happy with the finished look you see today. The addition of our new home page allows guests easier access to resources and information regarding isurvive, while also creating another level of security for our forums. It was important for us that the home page took on an integrated look within the full site.

What advice would you give to someone using a web designer for the first time?

To someone who is using a web designer for the first time, we would recommend starting out with a discussion of what you hope to achieve. It’s vital that your designer is au fait with your purpose and your targeted audience – giving consideration as to what would appeal to them regarding layout/colours/etc.

Why did you choose to host your website with Heart Internet?

We chose to host our website with Heart Internet as a means of increasing the speed of performance, ensuring security and reducing traffic issues. All of this has been achieved on the Hybrid Server. We are extremely happy with the service and level of support we receive.

How would you like to see your organisation develop in the future?

To get our purpose further out there and have our name ranked higher in Google searches would be a wonderful result for all. The membership grows continually and includes survivors from around the world. The team continue to give their time freely and to work tirelessly; helping to ensure the safety, support and on-going work of the haven that is isurvive.

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